The Chicago Cubs are turning the page. They are ready to contend.
With the recent addition of manager Joe Maddon to a franchise that has collected a fruitful bunch of talented young players, the Cubs are reportedly in a position where they are willing to spend on top free agents.
Starting pitchers like Jon Lester (who has a relationship with Cubs president Theo Epstein from their days together in Boston) and Max Scherzer are attractive candidates to join Chicago’s rotation. But both will command a large salary and signing Scherzer would cost the Cubs a draft pick, something Chicago likely wants to avoid.
Aside from Lester and Scherzer, it was recently reported that the Cubs are interested in trading for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Hamels, coming off probably the best season of his career, is owed $96 million over the next four seasons. What Lester and Scherzer will probably command is expected to be more in both number of years and total salary than what is owed to Hamels.
Sep 28, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago has showed interest in Hamels before. In August, they claimed Hamels off revocable trade waivers from Philadelphia, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on a trade.
There is one potential stumbling block in play: Hamels has a no-trade list, which the Cubs were apparently on. Sources have indicated he recently updated that list, but it’s unknown if he would accept a trade to Chicago.
If Hamels were willing to accept a trade to the Windy City, what would it take for a trade to happen?
While Hamels is a proven ace, Chicago is not going to unload the meat of their farm system for him. Epstein has been rebuilding the franchise and stashing prospects for years. So Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can ask for the likes of Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler, but I highly doubt Epstein trades either one.
Here is the trade I think makes the most sense for both sides:
The Phillies need one top of the line prospect. They get that in Russell, a shortstop. While Philadelphia’s top prospect is shortstop J.P. Crawford, he is years away from the majors. Plus, when it comes time for both Crawford and Russell to be on the field together, one can shift to another infield position, such as second or third. In addition, whether Jimmy Rollins plays for the Phillies in 2015 or not, his contract expires after this upcoming season. Meaning, at some point in 2015 or 2016 the shortstop spot would be Russell’s.
Oct. 14, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell plays for the Mesa Solar Sox during an Arizona Fall League game against the Scottsdale Scorpions at Salt River Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
To help further solidify the middle of the field, Almora would instantly become the future center fielder in Philly. Current Phillies center fielder Ben Revere—while he hits for average, can steal bases and run down fly balls at ease—does not appear to be part of the future. Revere has zero power and even with a high batting average, he fails to get on base at a quality rate. He also has a very below-average arm. Almora would bring solid defense and a quality, top-of-the-order bat to the Phillies.
While Russell and Almora would become fixtures in Philadelphia’s lineup over the next couple of seasons, the last player included in this potential deal is more of a mystery. Vogelbach can hit, and he can hit with serious power. But running and playing first base raise major questions. On baseball’s 20-80 scouting scale, Vogelbach was graded at 20 (the lowest) for running. And many believe he is a below-average fielder at best. Unless he can produce monster numbers, he becomes a liability playing first and an obstacle when running the bases. Even so, his power potential is there. And if the Phillies are ever to move Ryan Howard and first base opens up in the next few years, Vogelbach could get a shot. Or Philly could flip him to an American League team that could use him as a designated hitter.
If this deal happened between the Cubs and the Phillies, Chicago would take a hit in terms of organizational talent and depth. But they can afford to move those pieces, especially if it lands them Hamels—an ace with postseason success that would instantly bolster their pitching staff. Between Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, the Cubs are already covered up the middle.
For Chicago, it’s a time to add top starting pitchers in order to contend, but at a reasonable price. For Philadelphia, it’s a time to rebuild.